Thurston County is requesting proposals for qualified firms to prepare a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for review of a planned 51-turbine wind-powered electrical generation project on 19,654-acres of land that straddles the Thurston and Lewis county boundary, less than 7 miles southwest from Clear Lake.
The wind turbines would be located on Weyerhaeuser timber lands east and south of Skookumchuck Lake. The proposal by Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project LLC includes a 5-acre operations and maintenance yard, a 15-mile electrical transmission line and access roads. Of the 51 turbines, eight would be located within Thurston County.
The turbines would be built on top of ridges to maximize wind exposure, and including the rotor blades, would be about 499-feet tall. The operations and maintenance yard would be located on Weyerhaeuser-owned property at 16340 Vail Loop Road SE in South Thurston County. A new transmission line to transport electricity to the existing Puget Sound Energy Tono sub-station would be located in Lewis County.
Access to the turbines would be over Weyerhaeuser timber roads. The proposed facility has a capacity of up to 176 megawatts. A memorandum of understanding was approved by Lewis County commissioners Monday, designating Thurston County as the lead agency under SEPA.
Construction is proposed to start in the fall of 2017 and take nine to 15 months to complete, with operations starting Dec. 31, 2018. During construction, about 300 workers would be employed. During operations, about five employees would be needed.
According to a Supplemental Application for Special Use, Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project LLC stated, “The proposed project will be located on private land used for timber harvesting, and will not be incompatible with uses already occurring on the site. The project will not be located within a neighborhood and will not affect neighborhood character.”
Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project LLC stated, “The project will not impede the view of open spaces, mountains or other natural landscapes in the area. The form and shape of wind turbines, while not identical to forest resources, are similar in their vertical dimension and blend in to tree-covered ridgelines.”
Some area residents are concerned about the wind turbine project.
“I am opposed to the construction of the proposed wind farm on Weyerhaeuser land in the Skookumchuck area,” wrote Robert Schilt of Rainier, to Thurston County.
His concerns include wind farms “are built in areas that are used by migrating birds with a significant death toll.” Schilt said it would be better to trash the proposal and have the state declare hydroelectric power as “green.”
Yelm citizen Roberto Mazzarella also wrote a letter to the county. He’s concerned about increased risk of wildfires from the project.
“Wind turbines catch fire because highly flammable materials such as hydraulic oil and plastics are in close proximity to machinery and electrical wires,” Mazzarella wrote. “These can ignite a fire if they overheat or are faulty. Lots of oxygen, in the form of high winds, can quickly fan a fire inside a turbine.”
Mazzarella also worries that because the wind farm is located among clear-cut land covered by dry brush, emergency responders will have a difficult time accessing fires in such remote land.
Rella Schafer of Yelm is another citizen opposed to the wind farm.
“I do not support the Skookumchuck wind energy project,” she wrote, adding “... most important are the many deaths to the avifauna and bats, and nocturnal migratory birds and bats.”
For those concerned about light pollution, Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project LLC in a response to the county stated, “No daylight glare is expected from the tower or turbine rotor structure. It is anticipated that aircraft warning lighting will be required. … This will likely consist of one or more white strobe lights in the daytime and one or more red flashing lights at night on each tower string. … These lights are for pilots.”
As the project moves forward, the Board of Lewis County Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding on Monday that lays out the roles of each agency involved in the project.
Lee Napier, the county’s community development director, said the proposal continues to evolve, but stated that currently the company will construct facility operations in Thurston County, while most of the wind turbines would be located in Lewis County.
According to the memorandum of understanding, Lewis County would only take on the responsibilities required of a cooperating agency.
“As a cooperating agency, Lewis will provide adequate staffing resources to ensure active participation in the environmental review process, and shall contribute data and information relevant to the process,” states the agreement.
Napier said the project is not only being permitted by Thurston and Lewis counties, but stated there are a variety of other agencies involved.
“Each time they have reviewed it, it changes a little bit,” she said of the project.
The Chronicle’s sister newspaper The Nisqually Valley News in Thurston County contributed to this report.